A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

21. Chapter Twenty-One


1.         Stop Substance Addictions


Meditation is all about getting to “know yourself” – your body, mind and soul. Almost as soon as you start meditating, you realize that you want to know yourself as you basically are – and not yourself as modified by various substances.

In this matter, there is no difference between substance use and abuse. Any quantity that has a noticeable effect, whether it is harmful or indifferent to physical health, is too much for meditators.

If you take drugs, such as psychotropic chemicals[1], marijuana, tobacco or alcohol, or even coffee, occasionally or regularly, in small or large quantities, whatever your pretext or excuse – both your mind and your body are necessarily affected.

If you are having a meditative experience, and you have recently taken some substance, you will naturally wonder whether what you are currently experiencing is “for real” or just an effect of it.

If the experience is negative, you are clearly being shown the need to stop taking such substances. If the experience is positive, ask yourself whether you are satisfied with kidding yourself that you are on a spiritual level worthy of such experience or you will henceforth demand of yourself “the real thing”.

On a mental level, then, even if the effect of substances seems or feels good, it is bad. From the meditative point of view, there is no profit in it, only loss; it is not a shortcut to spiritual experience, but a constant hindrance.

On a physical level, too, whatever the substance you indulge in, it is sure to retard your progress in meditation. For instance, so long as you smoke grass, hash or tobacco, you cannot properly practice meditation on the breath. Or again, if you are drunk or stoned, and try to do yoga or tai chi, you will find your equilibrium and coordination inadequate.

Apart from their direct effects on mind and body, the substances we are discussing here all have nefarious spiritual implications. The very fact of resorting to some sort of substance – whether to palliate one’s life difficulties or out of sheer hedonism – constitutes a spiritual weakness and surrender. Whether such substances are harmful, or merely useless indulgences, with regard to body and mind, the very fact that one has not gotten the matter under control is indicative of a failing of the soul. One has either not reflected sufficiently on the issues involved, or not exercised willpower in accordance with reason.

Spiritual development requires one take full charge of one’s life. It is imperative to completely purify oneself of artificial material inputs, as soon as possible. Of course, this cannot always be done in a flash – but it is much easier to do than it seems to be (as one realizes later, looking back). Use every means at your disposal.

There are social services ready to help drug addicts of all kinds. The medical establishment and alternative medicine offer all sorts of solutions to the problems of tobacco and alcohol dependence. Do whatever works for you, but do it! If you are serious about meditation, and refuse to only pretend to meditate, be an absolutist and get rid of all material impediments without delay and forevermore[2].

The practice of some sport(s) is very helpful in this struggle for physical health. When you walk, run, cycle, swim or play ball, you soon see for yourself the negative effects of the use of substances; and when you do stop using them, the love of exercise will remove from you any desire to return to your old ways. Keep meditating all the while, because that will motivate you and show you the way to go.


2.         Don’t Stuff Yourself Silly


The use of drugs is but one aspect of a larger vice – that of pursuing sensations. Our bodies and minds are constantly hungering for sensory inputs and outputs – that is their ‘nature’. It is their way of self-assertion, their expression of existence. Such sensationalism, let loose unchecked, is bound to debilitate us. Fortunately, we have inner resources that enable us to judge and restrain such tendencies – our reason and willpower.

The main sensuous dependence of many people nowadays (in our rich Western societies) is simply food. Food is of course natural and necessary to our life and health, in reasonable quantities. But some people are munching for much of their waking hours; or, if they manage to limit their eating to regular meals, they eat far more than they need or is good for them.

A full stomach is not conducive to meditation. Energy that is required to focus consciousness is diverted for purposes of digestion. Food is soporific, or at least tiring. For this reason, meditators control their intake of food – not only its quantity and frequency, but also its quality. It is wise to abstain from heavy, difficult to digest foods, for instance. Many opt for vegetarian diets to various degrees.[3]

Sports (if only a bit of daily exercise or walking) are helpful for digestion, as well as to develop resistance and recover fitness. Physical exercise is energizing, raising one’s level of alertness during meditation, but one should not get overly excited by it to the point that one cannot calm down. To avoid getting drowsy during meditation, enough (but not too much) regular sleep is necessary.

A good way to reduce one’s eating is, paradoxically, to take the time to enjoy it – growing it (if possible) or shopping for it, preparing and cooking it carefully, laying then clearing the table, washing the dishes. Eating then becomes more conscious, in the way of a ritual[4]. Eventually, one finds time to notice the difference between pleasing one’s taste buds and satisfying natural hunger.

One gradually realizes the impossibility of ever satiating the hunger for oral sensations, and the need to resist such pseudo-hunger if only to relieve one’s body of the stress of incessant digestion, not to mention the accumulation of fat.

All this is of course obvious and generally well known. But one has to actually take control. To do so, one must realize that one can indeed readily do so – by looking upon the stirring of desire as something external to oneself, a mere phenomenon that can and does influence one’s freewill but cannot overwhelm it.


3.         Limit Input from the Media


It is nowadays nearly impossible for most of us to avoid influence in one form or another from the various media of communication among human beings. Whereas in times past many people could pass most of their lives in relative isolation and freedom from external influences, today this is very difficult.

Of course, in the past one’s family relations and village neighbors could and usually did have overwhelming influence. In today’s more individualistic setting, in a much more populous and technological world, the overwhelming influence comes from the media.

“The media” includes principally every press, cinematic and electronic medium of information, propaganda and entertainment. Novels and non-fiction books, newspapers and magazines, fiction movies and documentaries, radio and television, the Internet and mobile telephony – these are the major media we are subject to, at time of writing, in my part of the world.

On the surface, the media are free (of government controls) and competitive. But, in view of the spiritual and intellectual poverty of most producers and consumers, most of the media tend to develop, and for a time perpetuate, certain beliefs and values in common. We call this almost general tendency towards the lowest common denominator our “culture”.

Thought is standardized and formatted in easily digested bits, and the flavor of the day is mass-fed. Although fashion currents are getting more and more short-lived, the fact of homogeneity continues. This is of course a reflection of human nature – “man is a social animal”, and imitation is the stuff of social cohesion.

Admittedly, not everything is spiritually debilitating in our culture, but many things are and it is important to be aware of such things. It is for instance very important to be aware of the devastating emotional influence of daily, and indeed hourly, news bulletins in the press, on the radio and on TV, and in the newer media. The emphasis being on dramatic bad news, we are bombarded with data that seems designed to arouse negative emotions in us[5].

All this is food for sensation and idle thought. One who is intent on developing the art of meditation has to overcome the strong temptations the media offer. It is important to reduce such sensory input to the minimum necessary, because it only serves to keep us in a certain excited state of mind. We cannot truly plunge into the depths of our nature, into true self-knowledge, if we allow such distractions to constantly rule over us.

Of course, as concerned and responsible citizens, we do need some information, on which to base our judgments and actions. But consider the massive input from the media, and ask yourself how much of that you actually need to fulfill your duties. Following such considerations, find ways and means to limit input as much as possible.

Gradually, as one advances in meditation, one realizes most media inputs to be useless interference in our lives, which block rather than enhance contact with reality. The media pound images and sounds into one’s mind, and it takes great effort and time to clear them out. It is easier to just stop them from entering it in the first place.

In this respect, one particularly poisonous input is pop music. This is like a mental virus, because it is sound that is easily memorized even against our will. It consists of some simple, usually repetitive, often loud, jingle – which seems designed to enter the mind of anyone within earshot and remain glued there as long as possible. This causes people to become habituated and attached to the sounds in question, and to buy the record (as the music publishers have well understood).

Such “music” differs considerably with regard to adhesive properties from more classical music. When such a virus enters one’s mind, it is sometimes difficult to shake off. We may try to listen to or recall some other sound, to smother out the first. Or the virus may stay on for quite a while, disappearing from consciousness (though often remaining in memory, to reappear at some future time).


Drawn from Meditations (2006), Chapters 17-19.


[1]           Heroin, Opium, LSD, Cocaine, Crack, Speed, Ecstasy, etc.

[2]           A policy of zero tolerance is most likely to succeed in the long run. For instance, an ex-smoker need only smoke one puff of one cigarette to return to his old ways; so, no compromise should be indulged in, not even in imagination, ever. When one is free of such dependence one has no regrets, only a sense of relief, and incredulity that one ever found such a thing at all attractive.

[3]           One should not of course eat too little, either. This too stresses the body and disturbs meditation.

[4]           Some have called this “slow food”, in contradistinction to “fast food”.

[5]           Pity at the victims of natural disasters, heinous civil crimes, wars and terrorism. Anger at criminals, at unjust officials, or even at lying and misleading journalism. Hatred towards people who seem to be destroying the world, or simply in response to other people’s hatred. And so on.

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